A probing Eighth Symphony, an anguished Ninth
Mike Birman | Brooklyn, New York USA | 04/12/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I concur with the previous, splendid review. This two DVD set is an important release for capturing von Karajan's brilliant vision of Bruckner's Eighth Symphony, his personal favorite amongst ALL symphonies. I was privileged to attend Karajan's final American performance, and his penultimate anywhere, in February 1989, conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in the Eighth for a flu-ridden Carnegie Hall. Frail and ill, a mere 6 months before his death, his performance felt like a communique from the beyond as he somehow managed a titanic Eighth lasting 100 minutes. That performance seemed to suspend time as his Bruckner communed with the Angels. At its completion, we witnessed Karajan, his breath labored and his shriveled body barely upright, weeping through a 30 minute ovation. The audience wept as well. This performance was captured in June 1979 in St. Florian, Bruckner's own church of the Augustinian Monastery near Linz where he had been organist, and where he lies buried in the crypt beneath the organ. The performance is shorter than that final Eighth, lasting 84 minutes but is nonetheless probing, profound, and touched with an epic grandeur. The orchestral sonority is rich and multi-colored, their playing superb, frequently moving and always thrilling.
The unfinished Ninth symphony, anguished, often nightmarish with its machine-like scherzo, chilling trio and dissonant climax that seems to presage the new century, is given a tough reading of great urgency. Although the performance is not technically perfect, its conception is brilliant, the effect staggering. The Vienna Philharmonic sound massive and dark hued: the horns are weighty and monumental, the strings forceful yet lyrical, speaking insistently from out of the darkness, producing shivers down the spine. This is a troubled symphony and we are captive for its duration. The experience is shattering. The Te Deum is beautifully sung, a lofty hymn of praise, the light of faith following the long midnight of the soul. It is a splendid end to a superb concert.
These are performances that Bruckner/Karajan aficionados should enjoy and may even find revelatory. Most strongly recommended.
An Astonishing Document of a Mostly Vanished Tradition
davidhanddotnet | San Francisco, California | 04/10/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is simply a great DVD - for anyone interested in the music of Anton Bruckner, in the conducting of Herbert von Karajan, and most especially, for anyone interested in the Austrian-German performing tradition in the 20th century.
Taped (not filmed) in front of audiences in 1979 at the Stiftskirche St. Florian, Linz (Symphony No. 8) and 1978 at the Musikverein in Vienna (Symphony No. 9 and the Te Deum), the performances have the visual patina of European television of that era, transporting the viewer back to a particular place and time, especially for anyone who was alive then and remembers it. (By contrast, Deutsche Gramophon's DVDs of the Mahler symphonies, performed much earlier in the 1970s by Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic, have a cleaner look for having been recorded on film, which was restored for the DVD release.) The sound, however, far from being congested TV audio, is exceptionally spacious and clear, and for the most part, well-defined across the spectrum. And it's enhanced by being able to see one of the world's greatest orchestras execute these richly-textured scores. As of my second viewing I couldn't decide whether it was actually that more acoustic information and detail was available here than in the typical audio-only recording, or if it just seemed that way.
The performance itself is of a kind that cannot be experienced anywhere today. Perfectly controlled and beautifully nuanced, Karajan maintains the famous "line" through the massive structure of the symphonies and the compact, burnished architecture of the Te Deum while wringing astonishing power and intensity from the last works of a composer - and from an orchestra - known for both. Missing are the coldness and detachment sometimes ascribed to Karajan's music-making by his detractors - not that any review or performance, however remarkable, would persuade them. Instead what's evident is full, unrestrained commitment from a master then in his last years at the height of his powers, standing in front of an orchestra with whom he had spent decades moving deeper into music that plumbs the depths of human experience. Even the legendarily controlled playing of the Vienna Philharmonic here feels so unconstrained that inevitably just a few rough, humanizing edges appear in an otherwise seamless fabric.
Electrifying and unforgettable, I'll be returning to these discs often, and I can't thank DG enough for making them available."
Magnificent Bruckner concerts
Marc Haegeman | Gent, Belgium | 04/21/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"To mark the 100th anniversary of Herbert von Karajan Deutsche Grammophon continues the exploration of its video catalogue and unearthing these remarkable Bruckner concerts from 1978/79 with the Wiener Philharmoniker is a more than welcome event. What I find amazing about these filmed documents is that they disprove more than anything the complaints often laid against Karajan as the inhuman control freak.
Here is a conductor, in the autumn of his career, entirely on top of his game, serving as the most dedicated guide through these fascinating works, obtaining magnificent results from one of the finest orchestras of the day. Karajan knows as none else to blend sense of architecture with orchestral detail and transparency. His Bruckner may not always be the most mysterious (compared to Eugen Jochum, for example) but for all his mastery of structure, these readings preserve a degree of spontaneity, warmth and glow, humanity even, undoubtedly linked to some extent to performing live. This is best realised in the 9th symphony, where Karajan's unerring sense of pace really drives the listener toward the abyss. The playing of the Wiener Philharmoniker is in this respect nothing short of outstanding. It's perhaps not so much about orchestral precision (although very little really dramatic here either, considering these are live concerts) but about colour, transparency (the strings are sublime), sweep, and dynamics. The moments of silence are as powerfully gripping as the tutti. The "Te Deum" is also a first-rate performance, reminding us in Karajan's dealing with the Wiener Singverein, what a great opera conductor he was.
The main drawback of this issue, however (and for a release under Karajan's artistic supervision this is quite exceptional), is the visual quality of the films. Taped in 1978/79 in the Musikverein in Vienna and in the St Florian Stifstkirche near Linz (so to speak Bruckner's temple) they sadly show their age, quite unlike the earlier Karajan/Berliner Tchaikovsky and Brahms Symphonies also on DG, which were captured on 35mm film. These Bruckner concerts suffer from poor colour definition and contrast, while the 9th and the "Te Deum" shot at the Musikverein, are much too dark. The camerawork is generally also a lot more conventional than in the other often visually stunning Karajan concerts. Fortunately, the sound is fine, without being exceptional, but the sheer beauty of the orchestra can be appreciated.
Performance-wise this a five star release, but since we are considering DVD's which also have to be seen, I need to give it a four."
The Art of Perfection in Bruckner
Ryan Kouroukis | Toronto, Ontario Canada | 10/20/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Karajan's video recordings of Bruckner are as profound visually and they are aurally...especially the Eighth, live from St. Florian, Linz.
The performances are incredibly profound and magisterial. Not to mention extrordinarily beautiful, moving and passionate.
These performances rank on a whole other level in interpretation that perhaps scales heights previous unmatched even in Karajan's audio recordings!
A must for Karajan lovers and Bruckner lovers!"